Chicago Cubs, Ian Happ have come to a fork in the road

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

If there’s one Chicago Cubs player who has to be considered a question mark moving forward, it’s Ian Happ. Since 2017, I don’t remember a Cub that has been more up and down than Happ. So much so that his peaks find him receiving MVP votes and his valleys see him being sent to Iowa to start a season.

Personally, even though Happ struggled mightily in the first half of the year (admittedly not the first time he’s had a lengthy cold stretch), I don’t think he gets nearly the credit he deserves for what he’s capable of when he’s locked in. Just because he performed when the team was out of contention doesn’t mean those numbers are worthless. From an individual standpoint, they’re just as valuable.

Unfortunately, in the first have of 2021, Happ had the worst prolonged stretch of his career. Slashing just .183/.296/.330 over his first 76 games, all signs pointed to the clock running out for Happ in a Cubs uniform. But from there, the former first-rounder did a complete 180 – and went from looking lost at the dish to being more locked in than ever before.

In the second half of the 2021 campaign, Happ’s slashline was a respectable .268/.350/.536  with a 133 wRC+. Furthermore, in September and the few games in October alone to end the year, Happ caught fire to the tune of a .317/.405/.615 line to go along with .298 ISO, .427 wOBA and 167 wRC+ in a solid enough sample size of 121 plate appearances, indicating that what seemed like a nice hot streak at the time was more indicative that Happ made key adjustments at the plate as he has in the past. He also broke his career-high with his 25th home run in the ninth inning against the Cardinals on October 2, a game-winner in the second-to-last-game of the year.

The problem with Happ, is when he is on he is really on and when he is off he shouldn’t even be in the lineup. Glancing back to the shortened 2020 season, Happ also had a stretch where he sustained a .302/.439/.640 line in August with a 182 wRC+ over 98 plate appearances. Following this pattern, in the second half of 2019 a year prior, Happ slashed .264/.333/.564 over the course of 57 games played.

As we all know, baseball is a game of adjustments. When Happ adjusts and makes those key changes, he can become one of the better hitters in the league. On the flip side of that, you have a guy that when he’s off, he’s  a gaping hole in the lineup. Nobody expects him to hit .300+ all year long but if he can sustain a nice .268/.350/.536 for a full season as he did over the course of 71 games to close out the 2021 campaign, he’d clearly be one of the better hitters on the team and an extreme value in terms of his contract.

Chicago Cubs: Does Ian Happ have more value here or as a trade chip?

Speaking of his deal, Happ will be entering his second year of arbitration in 2022 after receiving a cool $4.1 million due to the solid outing he displayed in 2020. Happ’s peaks and valleys make him a question mark moving forward. For one, if teams are interested in a 26-year-old multi-position player with nice pop in his bat that can hit for a good .250-.270 and still has two relatively cheap years left before free agency, what would a Happ trade return even look like?

Surely, it would be a roll of the dice as is the case with any trade. Finding yourself in a catch 22, say you trade Happ and he picks up where he left off to end the 2021 campaign, you probably wind up regretting that trade. On the other hand, should he go into the deep freeze for two months and you wound up keeping him, it’s a serious issue for the line up in terms of production at the plate.

Personally, I would love nothing more than to see Happ shine for an entire season in a Cubs uniform. As stated before, when he is on, he is lights out. Chicago just can’t have him hit .150 in the first half and .300 in the second half any longer. Right now, he is a wild card. Obviously, should Happer find his much-needed year long consistency at the plate, he is an asset.

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With a new CBA coming and the potential of the DH in the NL, you could even plug him into that spot so he can get those everyday at-bats. The coming season will be incredibly important to determining what Happ’s future in the Windy City looks like.